Larry C Johnson

With friends like the Italians who needs enemies? If Karl Rove and Scooter Libby are indicted they can shift some of the blame to the Italians. If it were not for Italy, Joe Wilson probably never would have been sent to Africa to investigate the claim that Iraq was trying to buy uranium from Niger and the ensuing chain of events to smear Wilson would not have happened.

New Republican Talking Points on Plame Gate?

Crooks & Liars has interviewed Larry Johnson to get his reactions to the remarks made today by “Jack Burkman, self-described Republican strategist” as a panelist on MSNBC’s Connected, along with Air America host Randi Rhodes and co-hosts Ron Reagan and Monica Crowley (video).



Larry C. Johnson is CEO and co-founder of BERG Associates, LLC, an international business-consulting firm that helps corporations and governments manage threats posed by terrorism and money laundering. Mr. Johnson, who worked previously with the Central Intelligence Agency and U.S. State Department’s Office of Counter Terrorism (as a Deputy Director), is a recognized expert in the fields of terrorism, aviation security, crisis and risk management. Mr. Johnson has analyzed terrorist incidents for a variety of media including the Jim Lehrer News Hour, National Public Radio, ABC’s Nightline, NBC’s Today Show, the New York Times, CNN, Fox News, and the BBC. Mr. Johnson has authored several articles for publications, including Security Management Magazine, the New York Times, and The Los Angeles Times. He has lectured on terrorism and aviation security around the world. Further bio details.

A careful review of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Report on the Intelligence Community’s Prewar Intelligence Assessments on Iraq (July 2004) shows very clearly that there was only one source claiming that Iraq was buying the uranium. Shades of Curveball! Except in this case the source was not an Iraqi linked to Ahmed Chalabi, but a foreign liaison service. Knowledgeable friends say it was the Italian Intelligence Service (SISME).

SISME provided the CIA with three separate intelligence reports that Iraq had reached an agreement with Niger to buy 500 tons of yellowcake uranium (October 15, 2001; February 5, 2002; and March 25, 2002). (See Expanded PlameGate Timeline below). The second report from February was the subsequent basis for a DIA analysis, which led Vice President Cheney to ask CIA for more information on the matter. That request led to the CIA asking Ambassador Joe Wilson to go check out the story in Niger.

Even in the much maligned October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate, the entire intelligence community remained split on the reliability of the Iraq/Niger claim. During briefings subsequent to the publication of the NIE, senior CIA officials repeatedly debunked the claim that Iraq was trying to buy uranium. They also dismissed as unreliable reports from Great Britain, which also were derived from the faulty Italian intelligence reports.

Italy’s SISME also reportedly had a hand in producing the forged documents delivered to the U.S. Embassy in Rome in early October 2003 that purported to show a deal with Iraq to buy uranium. Many in the intelligence community are convinced that a prominent neo-con with longstanding ties to SISME played a role in the forgery. The truth of that proposition remains to be proven. This much is certain, either SISME or someone with ties to SISME, helped forge and circulate those documents which some tried to use to bolster the case to go to war with Iraq.

Although some in the intelligence community, specifically analysts at the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and the Department of Energy (DOE), believed the report, the intelligence community as a whole did not put much stock in the reports and forged documents, and repeatedly told policy makers that these reports were not reliable. Despite being rebuffed repeatedly by the intelligence community on these questions, policymakers persisted in trying to make the fraudulent case.

Two weeks before President Bush spoke the infamous 16 words in the January 2003 State of the Union speech, the Department of Defense was fanning the flames about Iraq’s alleged Nigerien uranium shopping trip. Starting in late 2001, senior Department of Defense officials, including Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, and Doug Feith, provided favored military talking heads with talking points and briefings to reinforce messages the Administration wanted the public to remember. One of those who frequently attended these affairs, Robert Maginnis, published an op-ed on January 15, 2003 subsequent to one of the briefings. In writing about the case for attacking Iraq, Maginnis affirmed that Saddam, “failed to explain why Iraq manufactures fuels suited only for a class of missile that it does not admit to having and why it sought to procure uranium from the African nation of Niger.”

Notwithstanding repeated efforts by intelligence analysts to downplay these intelligence reports as unreliable, DOD officials fanned the flames. This, my friends, is one example of “cooking intelligence.”

These facts further expose as farce the Bush Administration’s effort to blame the CIA for the misadventure in Iraq. We did not go to war in Iraq primarily because of bad intelligence and bad analysis by the Central Intelligence Agency, the Bush Administration started a war of choice.

BELOW, more analysis, and an extended timeline of the case:
While CIA did make mistakes and while some key members of the National Intelligence Council were willing to drink the neo-con kool-aid and go along with the White House, when it came to questions of whether Iraq was buying uranium in Niger or if Saddam was working with Bin Laden, CIA and INR analysts consistently got it right and told the Administration what they did not want to hear. It was policymakers, such as Vice President Dick Cheney, NSC Chief Condoleeza Rice, and SecDef Don Rumsfeld, who ignored what the analysts were saying and writing.


October 15, 2001: CIA issued a report from a foreign intelligence service that claimed Niger was going to ship several tons of uranium to Iraq. Report indicated that:

  • The sale was negotiated sometime in 1999

  • It was approved by the Niger state court

  • That Nigerien President Tandju approved the deal and communicated this to Saddam Hussein.

CIA, DIA, and DOE considered the report plausible but INR discounted it because the French consortium controlled the uranium industry in Niger. CIA analysts concluded that even if such a purchase took place Iraq had no facilities for processing or enriching the uranium.

Intelligence: The Human Factor (Securing Our Nation)
By Patrick Lang
Editor: Larry C. Johnson

20 November 2001: U.S. Embassy in Niger reported that there “was no possibility” that Niger had diverted any of the 3,000 tons of yellowcake produced in its mines based on its discussions with the Director General of Niger’s French led consortium. (SIC p. 37).

5 February 2002: The same foreign intelligence service that provided the original report on the Niger/Iraq allegation provided more details about the Niger/Iraq agreement reported in the October 2001 report. The new information did not resolve the doubts within the intelligence community expressed by INR. DO maintained the source was credible.

12 February 2002: DIA wrote a in the National Military Joint Intelligence Center Executive Highlight (Vo. 028-02) a note based on the 5 February report and concluded that, “Iraq is probably searching abroad for natural uranium to assist in its nuclear weapons program”. No judgment was offered about the credibility of the reporting.

13 February 2002: Vice President Cheney asked the to find out the truth about the DIA intel report (SIC pages 38 and 39).

19 February 2002: CIA managers in the Counter Proliferation Division convened a meeting of intelligence community analysts to meet with Ambassador Joe Wilson in response to the Vice President’s request for more information. Ambassador Wilson’s wife introduced her husband and left the meeting. She had neither the authority nor the means to hire her husband. This was a decision made by her supervisors.

26 February 2002: Ambassador Wilson arrived in Niger on 26 February and determined during the course of his visit that there was no substance to the allegation that Iraq was trying to procure uranium in Niger.

1 March 2002: INR publishes an intelligence assessment, Niger: Sale of Uranium to Iraq is Unlikely

Early March: Vice President Cheney asks his CIA briefer for an update on the Niger issue.

5 March 2002: Two CIA DO officers debrief Ambassador Wilson and draft an intelligence report. (SIC, p. 43)

8 March 2002: Intelligence report disseminated based on Ambassador Wilson’s trip to Niger. (SIC, p. 43) The CIA rated the report as “good”, because the information responded to at least some of the outstanding questions in the intelligence community. (SIC p. 46)

25 March 2002: The same foreign intelligence service responsible for the previous intel reports on the Niger/Iraq uranium deal provided “new” information claiming that Niger would supply 500 tons of uranium a year to Iraq.

10 May 2002: CIA’s Office of Near Eastern and South Asian Analysis prepared a Principals Committee briefing book that noted the claim, “a foreign government service says Iraq was trying to acquire 500 tons of uranium.” CIA analyst was inclined to believe the report but the INR analyst disagreed.

24 June 2002: U.S. Embassy in Niger reports that Government of Niger signed a comprehensive safeguards agreement with the IAEA.

22 July 2002: DOE published a note in the Daily Intelligence Highlight asking if Iraq was trying to reconstitute its nuclear programs. The note identified three indicators that Iraq might be trying but noted that there was no evidence that any uranium had arrived in Iraq.

1 August 2002: CIA’s NESA published a paper on Iraq’s WMD capabilities and did not include the alleged Iraq-Niger uranium information.

September 2002: DIA published an intelligence assessment arguing that Iraq was trying to procure uranium ore and yellowcake. This report was not coordinated with any other members of the intelligence community. (SIC, p. 48)

My List of Favorite Books
– Larry C. Johnson

Charlie Wilson’s War:
The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History

by George Crile

The Main Enemy: The Inside Story of the CIA’s Final Showdown with the KGB

by Milt Bearden

This landmark collaboration between a 30-year veteran of the CIA and a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist tells the true story of the generation of spies who came of age in the shadow of the Cuban missile crisis and rose through the ranks to run the CIA and KGB in the last days of the Cold War.

JIHAD: The Trail of Political Islam
by Gilles Kepel

Fiction that could be true:

Memorial Day
by Vince Flynn
Novel: “Fearless counterterrorism operative Mitch Rapp is called upon to fight against the world’s most deadly terrorists in this harrowing political thriller by New York Times bestselling author Vince Flynn.”

by Christopher Whitcomb, a former FBI Special Agent/Sniper
Novel: “Special Agent Jeremy Waller, chosen as a member of the FBI’s elite group Hostage Rescue Team, quickly finds that his missions are taking him off the map, and into the world of black ops.”

24 September 2002: British White Paper is published alleging that Iraq has sought significant quantities of uranium from Iraq.

September 2002: CIA analyst had a conversation with an NSC staffer while coordinating a speech. The CIA analyst recommended removing any reference to Iraqi attempts to acquire uranium. The NSC staffer protested and said that would leave the British “flapping in the wind”.

25 September 2002: Interagency meeting to discuss draft of the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq’s WMD programs included the judgment, “We cannot confirm whether Iraq succeededin acquiring uranium ore and/or yellowcake from [African] these sources”. (SIC p. 52) During the drafting of the NIE, there was a difference within the CIA between the WINPAC analyst and the NESA analyst over the allegation that Iraq was trying to buy uranium in Niger.

6 October 2002: CIA Director Tenet intercedes with Deputy NSC Chief Hadley to remove reference regarding Iraq trying to acquire uranium from planned speech in Cincinnati.

9 October 2002: Documents delivered to US Embassy in Rome (this was two days after President Bush presented the speech in Cincinnati sans the uranium reference) that appeared to document the Iraq/Niger transaction. Prior to this, members of the National Security staff and some key members of the NIC had pushed the Iraq/Niger story.

18 December 2002: Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs asks Under Secretary John Bolton to help develop a fact sheet rebutting Iraq’s claims it was complying with UN requirements.

15 January 2003: An op-ed by Robert Maginnis reveals that the Defense Department was providing classified information to private citizens to advance its campaign to go to war with Iraq. Maginnis wrote about Saddam, “He also failed to explain why Iraq manufactures fuels suited only for a class of missile that it does not admit to having and why it sought to procure uranium from the African nation of Niger.” [DOD, specifically Don Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Doug Feith, and others, provided regular background briefings to TV pundits like Maginnis. Despite being discounted by the intelligence community, the pundits were being briefed that Iraq was trying to acquire uranium from Niger.

28 January 2003: President Bush delivers State of the Union with the claim that Iraq recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.

6 May 2003: Nick Kristof writes, “I’m told by a person involved in the Niger caper that more than a year ago the vice president’s office asked for an investigation of the uranium deal, so a former U.S. ambassador to Africa was dispatched to Niger. In February 2002, according to someone present at the meetings, that envoy reported to the C.I.A. and State Department that the information was unequivocally wrong and that the documents had been forged.”

mid-May 2003: According to the Washington Post, after the Krstof piece the Vice President’s office pressed the CIA to find out how the trip was arranged, because Cheney did not know that a query he made much earlier to a CIA briefer about a report alleging Iraq was seeking Niger uranium had triggered Wilson’s trip.

10 June 2003: State Dept. memo is written on the 2-19-02 CIA meeting at Langley, Va. Where it was first discussed whether to send Joseph Wilson to Niger to investigate the yellowcake rumors. This is the first known mention of Valerie “Wilson” and her relationship to Joseph Wilson. Memo reportedly implies that Valerie Wilson played a major role in the meeting even though she reportedly only introduced her husband and then left the meeting after about 4 minutes.

23 June 2003: Newly discovered notes taken by Judith Miller of the New York Times document discussion between her and Dick Cheney’s Chief of Staff Scooter Libby regarding Joseph Wilson.

6 July 2003: Ambassador Wilson New York Times op-ed appears outlining what he learned during his mission to Niger on behalf of the CIA.

14 July 2003: Robert Novak publishes piece identifying Valerie Plame as a CIA official

23 September 2003: CIA files referral for criminal investigation with the Department of Justice.


Larry C. Johnson
Personal Blog: No Quarter || Bio
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